A cemetery in Phnom Penh

As Cambodia’s Jewish community grew, it unfortunately came to the realization that it needed a place of burial.

By JULIE MASIS
May 19, 2015 17:02
Royal Palace in Phnom Pen

Three of Butman’s five children, Henya, Mushka, and Shmulik, cavort at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.. (photo credit: ANNA CLARE SPELMAN)

 
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BEHIND A Buddhist pagoda about 45 minutes outside of Cambodia’s capital, a gray tombstone sits alone in what might be mistaken for a green rice field during the rainy season. There is no name or date carved into the stone. Skinny cows walk by in groups, and vendors sell drinks. This is the country’s first Jewish cemetery, which, as Bentzion Butman, the representative of the Chabad Hassidic movement and de facto rabbi of Cambodia, wrote in one of his recent weekly emails to the local community, “Let’s hope we never need to use.” Never need to use again, that is.

At Cambodia’s first Jewish funeral, last year, which was attended by local Jews, rabbis and rabbinical students from New York (one of them passed out from heat exhaustion) – as well as by a crowd of curious Cambodians – no one knew the deceased man’s name except the rabbi. The 56-year-old Israeli, Shekalim Mukerjee, died after a hunger strike at a Cambodian prison, where he ended up after overstaying his visa.

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